We’ve all watched the six o’clock news and seen a story on a poor lost bushwalker. Sometimes it’s an unfortunate tourist who wasn’t ready for Australian wilderness, sometimes it’s a city slicker who couldn’t handle the bush or sometimes a casual hike has been spun into disarray by weather conditions or medical emergencies.
I’ve occasionally lightly smirked to myself as the SES captain reiterates safety warnings about the bush for the millionth time, waiting for people to finally listen. After my experience last Monday, I will never again smirk at those stories.
It all began when my girlfriend and I drove from Sydney to Macquarie Pass National Park, with waterfalls on our minds. We arrived at the Clover Hill Car Park around 3pm, ready to walk the Clover Hill trail.
The plan was to walk the trail to where most stop at a waterfall called Rainbow Falls, and then continue on the unmarked trails that require solo navigation, hopefully arriving at two further waterfalls: Mulangong Falls and Clover Hill Trail.
Now let’s tick off a few things straight away. Perhaps my most crucial shortcoming was not being aware that daylight saving had ended the night before. But that was far from my only mistake.
I wasn’t sure exactly how long the trail was supposed to take, and there was very little charge on my phone. Furthermore, in what could just as easily be attributed to my sense of adventure, or my fragile male ego, despite some initially slow progress, I was very determined to make the end of the trail and reach our goal: the beautifully buried away and stunningly beautiful Clover Falls.
After almost 2 hours of walking, I reached this crown jewel. It was indeed completely stunning. I stood in awe of the towering cascade and the greenery that frames it so perfectly.
Unfortunately its beauty only brought out more stupidity in myself. My girlfriend and I experimented far too long with self timer photos before eventually deciding to head back. By the time we left the trail, unbeknownst to me and my inadequate brain, sunset was about 25 minutes away.
The winding and unmarked trails were completely swallowed by the dark. It happens so quickly. Your mind starts playing tricks on what you did and didn’t walk past, nervous laughter creeps into a genuine fear, and a light layer of self-loathing can’t help but butter itself over your soul.
By the time 6pm hit, you couldn’t have seen the entire cast and crew of Neighbours 10 metres away. It was pitch black and our attempts to find the trail were ending only in hopelessly walking in circles, slipping on muddy rocks and tripping over tree roots. It felt completely surreal as we accepted our fate of being genuinely lost, knowing any further attempts to find a way out would be futile and dangerous.
We knew we had to stay put and ring for help. Standing tiptoed on a rock with my arm to the sky earned us the tiniest slither of phone reception, which we used to call triple 000, who could barely decipher us through an awful signal, as we gave our location as best we could. We soon received a call from local police and were informed SES were on their way.
What followed was a nervous hour of shivering cold. My poorly rehearsed celebrity impressions resoundingly failed in lifting spirits, as we waited in the dark, watching our phone battery slowly disappear.
We were cold, wet and completely alone. We sat scared, completely at the mercy of the dark bush surrounding us. However, luckily Australia has wonderful and brave volunteers, willing to sacrifice their time for the safety of people like me. As we sat shivering in our regret, an army of these volunteers were scouting the dense bushland. It took around two hours for them to find us and I’ve never been so grateful to see those uniforms.
While my story is one of stupidity, I did learn some lessons that could potentially help someone from waltzing into the bush as foolishly carefree as I did. So if this story does anything other than embarrass me, it might help others from being so rash.
Download the Emergency Plus app.
When the 000 operator asked me to give the most accurate location of us that I could, I rustled through the screenshots of the travel blog that recommended the hike, drained my girlfriends phone battery scrolling on google maps and spent a good 5 minutes pretending to know how to use a compass. If I had the Emergency Plus App, I could have very easily given my exact GPS coordinates, and had peace of mind that we would be found.
Tell someone where you’re going
The hike was impromptu and we had not told a soul where we were heading that day. If we hadn’t been able to call 000 it could have been any amount of time before someone working out we were missing, let alone where we were missing. Whether it’s lightly informing a trusted friend or vainly plastering your plans over social media, do it.
Bring dry clothes
Having just swum in the waterfall, as I sat in the dark nothingness, I had the added bonus of cold clothes clinging to my skin. A warm flannel and pair of pants might not be able to bump up my IQ, but it would’ve kept me warm as we waited, or if we had ended up having to sleep there overnight.
Bring a portable phone charger
Your phone is your friend and on my night in my bush, I had to sit helplessly as I watched this friend slowly die. This may appear hopelessly obvious, but if anyone sillier than me is reading this, a portable phone charger is a must.
Download the View Ranger App
ViewRanger is not only a great app to discover and plan hikes, but it also offers precise GPS navigation that can help you get where you need to go and retrace your steps if necessary. It will even alert you if you wander too far off trail, it’s everything I never knew I needed.
Buy a Personal Locator Beacon
If you’re really going out and hiking a lot, particularly if you’re doing multi day walks and are going into very remote areas where phone reception is a scarcity, a Personal Locator Beacon is a way to make sure in the event that something goes wrong and you can’t use your mobile phone, people will come to rescue you. A Personal Locator Beacon will send a distress signal to emergency services and someone will come to rescue you. You should only activate your Personal Locator Beacon when you are in genuine distress, but it could genuinely be your saviour in an emergency.
- Know how long the hike is meant to take so you can plan to start early enough
- Get a good filtered water bottle that can turn whatever water you find to safe drinking water
- An emergency, lightweight hiking blanket is extremely cheap and can get you through a cold night
- Trail ribbons or markers can help you retrace your steps, and even offer guidance for future hikers on the trail if you choose to leave them
- Be better than me and if your instinct tells you it’s time to turn back, turn back
- Google what time the sunset is and plan your day around this
- I destroyed my throat yelling back and forth with rescuers, bringing a whistle would have made this a lot easier
- Bringing a torch, particularly a head torch will make things a lot easier for you and save you from using your phone torch and wasting battery